The Mystery of Contentment

Contentment has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. Since I was in high school, all I wanted was to be happy. For years that meant living for the next thing. The next boyfriend. The next dance. The next academic achievement. The next holiday. The next concert. Eventually those things weren’t enough. I needed the next stage of life – college, a good job, marriage, health, kids, a house, financial stability, etc. The list goes on and on. Because nothing ever manages to fulfill the way you think it will.

I’ve rarely met a situation that didn’t leave me disappointed. Every event I’ve looked forward to had an ounce of hollowness to it. A feeling of is that all?

It’s strange that it took losing almost everything I ever wanted to find contentment. I lost my marriage. Something I put my identity into, my heart and my soul were invested into loving that man. I nearly lost myself in the process of loving and losing him. For a while I thought I might lose being a stay at home mom, and even though I’m privileged to work from home, my life is still a far cry from my days as a carefree homemaker. I lost my house, my neighborhood, and my standard of living. I lost my ministry and my ability to be a hostess, no longer able to create safe places in my home for others. I lost my mind for a while. Grief really does drive you mad. And yet in those days and months that I found myself losing everything, I was content.

It’s easy to cling to Jesus as your one and only when he is the only thing that isn’t failing you.

But life has a way of righting itself after a disaster. I have a new home, a new way of life and pattern of living. I’ve grown accustomed to being alone in the evenings and to parenting on my own. I’ve fallen in love again and am starting a new life with a godly man who makes me incredibly happy. I have a modest income and God has provided beyond my imagination in my times of need. I’ve found strength and grown in who I am. I have deeper friendships than I ever imagined. In short, I’m happy.

And yet I find that old familiar companion slowly creeping back into the corners of my life. Discontentment. I know that “blah” feeling well. That feeling of, what’s next?

Turns out, it’s harder to cling to Jesus when life is pretty great.

But it’s so incredibly necessary. Putting my hope for happiness in my future marriage will doom it to failure. It will place an incredible burden on my fiancée to be my everything. Relying on finding fulfillment in my career will only leave me feeling empty and cause me to strive ever more for the next achievement. Resting in creating a comfortable home with happy children will cause me to resent every aspect of my day that conflicts with those ideals.

Clearly this world is not my home and it will never be able to give me meaning and purpose the way I want it to. It cannot. Only Jesus. Ever and only Jesus.

I learned how to immerse myself in Jesus when my life was hard, so how do I enjoy Jesus when my life is good? How do I enjoy the good gifts of the Creator without expecting them to actually make me happy? How do I get off the endless cycle of looking to the next big thing? I honestly don’t know. But I have an inkling it has a lot to do with gratitude. Because the heart of discontentment is saying, “this isn’t enough, I want more.” That sounds a lot like ingratitude to me.

When I work five jobs to make ends meet for my children and decide to splurge on a gift for them, it hurts my heart immensely when they ask for more. Don’t they know? Can’t they see how much I’m sacrificing for them and how hard I’ve worked for this one little thing? More than just lacking thankfulness, it makes me feel like they don’t understand my love. Could it be the same with Jesus? When we focus on the gift and all the ways it seems to be lacking, does it say something about how we view God? Instead of focusing on the gift and trying to muster up a list of “ten things I like about this thing”, what if I spent my time reflecting on how this gift is a symbol of God’s love for me?

Every gift from God says something about my relationship with him. The gift of suffering shows his desire to be close to me, to help me rely on him only and worship no other gods before him. The gift of children shows his desire to teach me about the way he loves his children. The gift of hunger or lack shows me how he provides eternally satisfying water and food. The gift of marriage shows me a picture of how Christ loves the church. Each gift says something about Jesus.

There are so many names for God in the Old Testament, each with a slight nuance: God of peace, God who provides, God who heals, etc. Instead of getting stuck in a cycle of “never enough”, what if each gift pointed me back to the God who is always enough? Always loving, always teaching, always patient, always kind. May my lack of fulfillment in the things of this world constantly move me towards the one person who always satisfies.

Every moment of discontentment is an opportunity for praise. Every time a gift doesn’t satisfy or circumstances don’t bring complete and utter joy, it’s a chance to worship. I’m thankful for the unsettled feeling that accompanies my happiest moments because they offer me Jesus. Ever and only Jesus.

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